Distributing the Household Support Grant – An ESDEG Experience

Suchismita Majumdar, Communications & Policy Officer, ESDEG

Household Support Grant (HSG) was introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in autumn of 2021 to provide support to the most vulnerable in London through small grants of food, clothing, utility and essential items in response to the high rates of inflation and soaring cost-of-living crisis. Though funded by the DWP, the councils are responsible for distributing the funds to the low-income households in their local communities.

There were initial teething problems as the councils tried to figure out the best way to disburse the funds and how to reach the most vulnerable in their boroughs. In May 2022 the Guardian newspaper asked the beneficiaries to share their experiences of accessing the HSG funds. In July 2022 Jedidajah Otte published an article in the Guardian titled ‘Vulnerable people struggle to access UK household support fund’ where experiences of those applying for the grant or trying to use the vouchers issued to them were shared. The beneficiaries complained about the bureaucratic hold-ups in the disbursement.

When the scheme was initially introduced it came under severe criticism by charities working on poverty issues and also the opposition as a stop-gap measure which was not an alternate to proper social security system. The title of an article published in the Guardian in September 2021 by Patrick Butler and Jasper Jolly – ‘UK’s new £500 winter hardship fund branded as ‘sticking-plaster’ is pretty self-explanatory. The same article carries a quote by Helen Barnard, deputy director of Joseph Rowntree Foundation “It does not come to meeting the scale of the challenge facing millions of families on low incomes as a cost-of-living crisis looms and our social security system is cut down to inadequate levels.”


ESDEG is one of the charity partners of the Ealing Council who help disburse the funds to those most in need. While we agree with Ms. Barnard’s statement that this scheme does not fix the social security system and the very short nature of it fails to bring any sense of security to the people it is meant to help. We will elaborate on this later. But as a grassroots charity for whom the figures are not mere numbers on our computer screens but real people struggling to feed their families, we welcome the help we are getting from the government to ease the hardships faced by the most vulnerable.

On this third day of London Challenge Poverty Week, we share a conversation with Ms. Rahma Elmi, our Project Coordinator who oversees the SHG project in ESDEG – her experience of disbursing the funds, the teething problems faced by the team in the initial days, and what her learnings are from this experience.

Q. Since when has ESDEG been involved in the HSG distribution scheme?

A. ESDEG has been involved in HSG for the last one and a half years and we are currently in the third phase of delivering this scheme.

Q. As you navigate each phase, has the distribution become easier?

A. Yes, we are more streamlined in our delivery than when we initially started. We are also learning and adapting as we go along. Like in the first phase we were giving food vouchers for Tesco and Sainsburys but that was not working very well, so now we have switched to giving out food parcels. We find receiving actual food and toiletries are less hassle for our beneficiaries, you know when we gave out vouchers, they had to first collect those vouchers from us, then go and use those in the supermarkets. Also, in the initial phase there were certain limitations on what products these vouchers could be used for like for some reason they were not allowing parents to pick up infant feed which was rather unfair.

Q. Does ESDEG only distribute food through HSG?

A. We do distribute essential food parcels, but the good thing about this scheme is that it’s very flexible and can be used to meet different needs of those who are struggling. We help people to pay their gas, electricity and water bills, we help people settle their outstanding debts specially accumulated via paying for their utilities through direct debit, then a big part of this scheme is advisory service — we talk to the service users about debt and debt management, financial management, energy efficiency, we teach people how to check energy ratings and make smart choices, we also provide people with white goods, for example if someone needs a new washing machine or fridge or a cooker, we look at the energy ratings and make sure that the appliance is going to serve them the long term, and is good value for money for them without compromising on the quality of the product. Like we have provided people with smart cookers which are more energy efficient rather than traditional cookers. We work with schools to provide parents with winter clothes especially coats for their children when they can’t afford to buy those. So, it’s a mixed bag and varies from family to family and we use HSG to meet the specific requirements of the families needing help. We do give out some vouchers but these are for Primark and H&M so that they can get winter clothing according to their size and requirements.

Q. Who are the beneficiaries of HSG?

A. This scheme is open only to the residents of the London borough of Ealing who are in financial hardship. There are certain criteria that must be met like the beneficiaries must be in the low-income category, must be getting Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, Pension Credit, Free School Meals etc. One good thing is that it is also open to people who have no recourse to the public funds.

Q. What happens to the residents of other London boroughs?

A. This scheme has been introduced to all the London boroughs. They (residents) will have to approach their council and the charities distributing the HSG in that particular borough. If they are parents they could approach their children’s schools as well.

Q. Do you work with children?

A. In this particular scheme we work more with the parents either directly or through schools to provide food, warm clothes, bedding, toiletries for the children.

Q. How do you make sure that the service you provide is not clashing with any other service?

A. Because parents get vouchers during the school holidays for shopping for food for their children from the council, we don’t do that. Instead, we try to help more with tangible goods.

Q. How has the response been?

A. In all three phases we are overwhelmed with the requests for help. And we do not even advertise this. In fact, all the charities that I know who are involved in SHG distribution never advertise. Because these projects are not long term, they tend to run for 3 to 6 months, and when you advertise people tend to think that this project is going to go on for a while and their hopes are raised, and they come to us for help even after the project has ended. Then it feels really bad to send those people back empty handed.

Q. Then how do people get to know about SHG?

A. It’s through our existing users, the referral services and our networks with schools, we work very closely with schools on this.

Q. Do you have any particular days allocated to distribution?

A. Yes, at the moment we give out food parcels 2 days a week and we run advisory and guidance service two days a week. Our referrals come from schools and also from the advisory service, when people who come to us for advice and we see that they are struggling and need help, then we refer them to the HSG.

Q. What are your observations after having run this programme for the last one and a half years?

A. The need is still there and the debt is more, especially because of gas and electricity bills, when we first started, we used to see people with the debts of £200/300, but now it is significantly more like £800/900 because most families are now paying utility bills through direct debit of over £250/300 a month and if you miss one or two it accumulates very quickly and becomes hard to catch up with. We also have pensioners who are still making the choice whether they pay for the food, the rent or the bills, it’s really a very difficult time. The ones I see struggling the most are the pensioners; they are the most vulnerable.

Q. Anything you are doing differently from previous rounds?

A. You know people who have the electric top-up cards, in the previous rounds we would take those cards to the post office to top up. In this round, we are trying to make them register online so that its easier for the users to keep track of their consumption, see their bills and manage their accounts and payments. We have switched to online top-ups in this phase.

Q. How long is this phase expected to go on?

A. I think spring 24, but the need is so immense we are hoping that they would extend beyond that period.

Food ready to be given out

Till the high levels of inflation and cost-of-living-crisis is brought under control and the government manages to overhaul the broken system and bring systemic changes to fix the social security system, HSG helps tide people over. But those who are receiving these short grants and those of us disbursing these, we are both very aware of their short nature while the need in the community is immense. Meanwhile the community has rallied together to fight this crisis. The Northolt Community Food Bank run by a single mum is a shinning example. If you want to know more about that initiative, check out our previous blog post.